The Gainesville thrift store, Flashbacks Recycled Fashions, located at 220 NW 8th Ave., has seen a surprising burst in customers wanting to expand their style following this year's COVID-19 pandemic shut downs. 

Walking into Flashbacks Recycled Fashions is like stepping through the trendiest time machine.

Between the hum of songs like “Two of Hearts” by Stacey Q and “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John, it’s a surprise the surrounding scene isn’t a ’70s-era roller skating rink.

Instead, at 220 NW 8th Ave., shoppers are met with row after row of painstakingly labeled garments peeking out of closets and hanging from the ceiling. People can find anything from the basics to a pair of fake-blood stained overalls from a ‘90s Mudvayne show. 

The store’s oddities are abounding. Surprisingly, as a retail store during a pandemic, so are its customers.

It became clear to owner Steve Nichtberger early in the year many local students would not return to Gainesville in the near future. He wondered whether the 34-year-old business would struggle. 

But the 61-year-old said the store has benefited from strangely high traffic. Normally unsurprising around this time of year, the boost occurring in the middle of a pandemic — with closed dressing rooms and a mask requirement — is enough to turn heads.

Afflicted with the pandemic blues, people are more apt now to go out and make themselves feel better through “shopping therapy,” he said. 

For most of the store’s history, a majority of its customers have been students. This year, however, it has seen an influx of people within the greater Gainesville area return to pick up a piece of the past.

One of the store’s best components is its distinctness and willingness to break from the mainstream, he said.

“I love pushing the edges,” he said. “That’s what my life has been.”

Before starting Flashbacks, he realized it was a model that could create nothing while destroying nothing. The low-impact nature of the store keeps it ahead of the curve — during bad times, there’s always a need for cheap clothes, he said. During good times, “awesome stuff pours in.”

For the first time since the store has been open, Nichtberger said there’s interest in every decade because of styles circulating instantaneously through social media.

Thrifting went from being just for “punks” and “hippies” to mainstream overnight, he said, and the internet only made secondhand shopping more universal.

He likes to think he’s held onto a Gainesville business as long as he has because of his own intelligence but said he doesn’t owe it to that. 

“It’s mostly luck and love,” he said.

Tatum Nichtberger, the 30-year-old store manager and Nichtberger’s daughter, said she’s thankful for recent traffic because, for the first time in the store’s history, they thought they might not make it. The resurgence has been a reassurance.

Having spent her time climbing through Flashbacks’ racks as a kid, she started working there in high school. After a break and a few other jobs, she came back about nine years ago. 

Even though Flashbacks resides at its fifth location — her favorite — she said the store consistently welcomes committed regulars from both in- and out-of-town.

Shoppers have told her the store is an escape during the pandemic, she said. Having grown up in it, she appreciates and envies the point-of-view.

“I wish I could see this place from an outside perspective,” she said.

Elise Trankina, a 20-year-old UF nursing junior, recently returned to the store after the move from its previous location on University Avenue. 

Even between moving locations — and though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it — she said it’s the novel, singular vibe of Flashbacks that makes it stand out.

“I don’t know exactly what draws me to it,” she said. “I prefer thrift store shopping at a place like this.”

Contact AJ at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ajbafer.